At some point in most long-term romantic relationships, couples fall upon the unfortunate question game of ‘would you still love me if…?’ They ask each other questions like: Would you still love me if I were horribly disfigured in an accident? Or, would you still love me if I changed my sex? Only the most faithful of comics couples think to ask, “Would you still love me if I fell into a swamp during a fire, died, and was then regenerated by ‘plant consciousness’, retaining my old memories but identifying more with the plant kingdom than animals? Oh, and instead of flesh, my skeleton would be covered with moss and ferns and swamp stuff?”
Though the possibility of this transformation seems many worlds away, somehow readers of Swamp Thing suspend disbelief. In addition to buying into this narrative of a man reborn as a plant, we began to agree that such a swamp thing would have a semi-traditional courtship with a human. Of course, to just let that relationship run its course without the meddling of traditional authorities would be too unrealistic. The year 1986 just wasn’t ready for a sentient plant and human romance, and in issues #47-53 Abby Holland’s relationship with Swamp Thing was put on trial as a “crime against nature”, mirroring controversy over the real U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold anti-sodomy laws in Bowers v. Hardwick around the same time. Enraged, Swamp Thing returns the city to a fast-growing wilderness and demands not only Abby’s release, but legal recognition of their relationship. Some city-dwellers revel in the bounty of the new jungle city, but the state wants to reassert its authority.
Falling in love with someone who is deemed unfit by society to be your partner has been a common literary theme since time immemorial. From Shakespeare to Stendhal, it’s a trope in which we love to engage. The addition of modernity versus nature, or the city versus wilderness, gives rise to a much appreciated King Kong grandeur in the Swamp Thing saga. The combination of Swamp Thing’s love for Abby and his mixed feelings about humans are manifested in the scale of his transformation of the city. This panel, from Alan Moore and John Totleben’s Swamp Thing #53 shows the city’s transformation and the growth of the kindly monster’s hubris.